Group of Gothic Panel Paintings with the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula
Group of Gothic Panel Paintings with the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula
Group of Gothic Panel Paintings with the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula

c. 1415

Material
Tempera

Collection
Dom Museum Wien
On loan from the Archbishopric of Vienna

Inv.Nr.
L/13

Tempera
Panel
Medieval art

On view

Query
Reproduction request
Loan request

Photo: Leni Deinhardstein, Lisa Rastl, Dom Museum Wien
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Group of Gothic Panel Paintings with the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula

This is one of seven panel paintings depicting the martyrdom of Saint Ursula as well as other saints on a gold or dark background. They are probably parts of a lost winged altar.

The seven panel paintings all once belonged to a Gothic winged altar, whose precise appearance cannot be definitively reconstructed, as several parts are missing. What all panels have in common is the style of figuration, which corresponds to the so-called “Beautiful Style” around 1400: the delicately articulated bodies are long and slender, the faces are gracefully small. The figures are clad in richly draped garments with crescent-shaped lateral trains. The sceneries—like herbage or earth—are in part rendered with great realism; architectural elements are suggestive of buildings.

The painting showing the most figures is dedicated to the martyrdom of St. Ursula: the boat carrying the daughter of a Breton king and her companions on the pilgrimage to Rome land in Cologne. The Hun king besieging the city has her companions killed by his soldiers. Coveting the saintly maiden, the heathen king points her out in the boat from his tower. As Ursula refuses to marry him, she will eventually have to suffer the same fate as her maids.

The paintings are of different quality and show different regional influences. It seems that several painters collaborated in the making of the winged altar, with one “leading master” executing the more important panels on gold ground. These were on view only on holidays when the wings were opened. On workdays, with the wings closed, the altar only showed the dark-grounded paintings. The paintings, which were formerly hanged in the episcopal palace in Ober-St.-Veit, then the Archbishop’s summer residence, have been in the museum since 1933.